HC Deb 30 April 1948 vol 450 cc804-29
Mr. Hardman

I beg to move, in page 14, line 42, at the end, to insert:

"Fourth Schedule, paragraph 4 For the words 'at least once in every three months
(Times for meetings of managers or governors of schools) substitute 'at least once in every school term'."
The principal Act requires that the managers and governors must meet at least once in every three months. This requirement is not always acted upon, partly because of the difficulties of getting a quorum, especially in the three holiday months of July, August and September. We here propose a requirement easier to comply with, and one which is more likely to be observed, namely, that there shall be a meeting once in every school term. The Primary and Secondary School Regulations require the school year to be divided into not more than four terms. There is nothing to prevent managers and governors from meeting more than once a term or in holidays as well as in term time. This Amendment is meant to facilitate the holding of the minimum number of meetings required under the principal Act.

Amendment agreed to.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. Austin (Stretford)

I beg to move, in page i6, line 15, at the end, to insert: 'Provided that children to whom this paragraph applies shall not be gainfully employed at any time in the mornings during the period of school term.' I am very grateful to have the opportunity to ventilate this matter. It is a question that affects the welfare and health of children throughout the country generally. Yesterday I asked the Home Secretary, whether he would consider allowing local authorities all over the country to ban the employment of children. Unfortunately, he could not see his way to do that. Perhaps, I can reinforce the case today by arguments I could not possibly put at Question Time yesterday.

In this Bill we are making provision for raising from 12 to 13 the age at which our children may be employed, thus keeping that age in line with the raising of the school-leaving age. I submit that that does not go far enough. Authorities all over the country are concerned about the effect on children's welfare of their having to work early in the mornings either in the delivery of newspapers or in the delivery of milk. Recently the matter was ventilated by a proposal of the Middlesex County Council, which has aroused the consternation and opposition of Chambers of Commerce all over the country. I notice in the Press a report that the National Association of Chambers of Commerce are proposing to see the Home Secretary in regard to this matter. It looks to me—although I may be wrong—that even if my hon. Friend does not accept this Amendment, this reform will have to be made sooner or later, possibly through the Children Bill now proceeding through another place. I hope that if my Amendment is not accepted, the principle of it will be contained in that other Bill.

In my own county of Lancashire, the education committee some time ago recommended to the county council that it should ban the employment of school children in the early mornings. Unfortunately, when that recommendation was debated by the council, it was rejected. I can only assume that it was so rejected because of the pressure of business men through the local chambers of commerce. There is a case against the industrial employment of children in the early hours of the morning. There is a case for the desirability of a national enactment to avoid local confusion.

First, I would say that children who are usually employed in this way are those who come from homes where there is financial stringency or where there is poor parental regard to education. Those who would look at this matter from the point of view of their own selfish interests point to a number of famous men who, in their childhood, sold newspapers or did other tasks of that nature. They could say, for instance, "Look at the Minister of Education." I see that the name of the Lord President of the Council has been quoted as an instance, and that of Lord Beaverbrook. These famous and worthy men, however, would have achieved success even if they had not sold newspapers or done some other similar work when they were children. I, in my own humble way, commenced work after school hours at the age of 11, but I cannot see that that is any reason why I am in this Chamber.

If children have any gifts at all they will find expression; and if they are compelled to put up with the disadvantages of working at these tasks in the early morning, or at other hours when they should be enjoying themselves and finding normal expression in children's play, then, in my view, that means that those children are not living a full life, and enjoying themselves as they ought to. All this nonsense about famous men having done this sort of work, and its having done them no harm, is really beside the point.

I am glad to have the backing of many educational authorities, and I see my hon. Friend's authorities on education in this Chamber today. I am sure they will agree that pupils who are employed in the early morning for the purposes I have outlined become drowsy and inattentive at their lessons later in the morning, and so become backward in their education. Many children who get up early in the morning to do this sort of work have only a sketchy and hasty breakfast. In the winter, particularly, that is a great hardship. It may not be too bad for children to get up at five or six in the morning in the summer, but I ask the House to observe the lot of the child who goes out on a cold, dark, wet winter morning, ill-dad, ill-shod, to face the rigours of the winter, merely to earn a few shillings a week. What it all means is that, if we allow this practice to persist, we shall allow an unfortunate discrimination between the children of the poor, who go out to work in this manner, and the children of the rich who can enjoy themselves in the manner children ought to enjoy themselves, free in their leisure to do exactly as they want to.

Some Members of local authorities—I am sorry to have to say it—who do not share this view may, perhaps, be business men who may be intimately concerned in putting their own business interests first before the welfare of the children. I am certain that from every possible angle we have to admit that there is injury to the children. It does put those who do this work into a lower social category, and it puts them into a lower educational category. It must operate to their disadvantage. It is certainly something that ought to be examined by the House.

I want briefly to outline how we can overcome the objections. The objection about depriving the children of rising to fame by this means, I have already dealt with. But there is an argument—and it is a very valid argument, and a substantial one—that if we do not allow children to do this sort of work it will be a great inconvenience, not only to newsagents and milkmen who employ children in the early mornings, but also to the general public. I can well imagine the well-fed, average citizen, sitting comfortably at home reading his morning newspaper at his breakfast, does not for a moment realise the conditions the child who has delivered the newspaper, has had to experience to bring it to him. I can understand very well his not wanting to be inconvenienced to the extent of having to go to the newsagent's shop to be served in the morning or having to go to the milkman's distribution centre for his milk.

I submit to the House that there is a simple solution. Whereas in the past, because of economic necessity, we have allowed these children to be exploited in many cases, perhaps we might now switch from the younger to the older generation, the much older generation. In my view the best way of doing away with this evil would be to agitate for older people to be employed for this work, and the type of person I have in mind is the old age pensioner.—[AN. HON. MEMBER: "Oh."]—I heard an hon. Member object when I said that, but there is no reason why an old age pensioner who is willing should not be allowed to do this work instead of a child. It might provide a convenient opportunity of earning a few shillings for those who find life difficult at the moment, and we should also be alleviating a great social evil.

I have made it clear in my Amendment that I wish to prevent children from doing this work only during school term because, if they do it then, it follows as a natural consequence that they are not paying all the attention they should to their education, and that they are not being given the opportunities for education to which they are entitled. However, I make no plea for restrictions of any kind on the use of children during their school holidays, if they want to work, because they have leisure to recover during the rest of the day. I hope my right hon. Friend will give this matter his consideration, and if he cannot give us satisfaction today, I hope he will consult with other right hon. Members in the Government directly concerned with a view to arriving at a reasonable solution.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I do this if only to emphasise once again what we discussed for hours and hours on the Education Act, 1944. We tried every way of getting this into the Act, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) on his ingenuity in getting this Amendment put forward today, if only for propaganda purposes. I can say, as Chairman of the Committee on Wage Earning Children, that we have been stressing this, and that we came down to the minimum period which was during school term, and my hon. Friend has followed the exact words of the original Amendment.

We had so many Debates on this during the passage of the Education Act that I will not waste the time of the House now by repeating most of the arguments then put forward. It is bad for the children, it is bad for the school, and it is generally an exploitation, and all the arguments put forward about newspapers and milk have nothing whatever to do with children but with another aspect of the problem. I am not sure whether this is the right place for the Amendment, but I know the differences that exist in the by-laws of local authorities. Some are still bad, some are model, but it is time there was some national lead on this, and I hope that the Minister, whatever his reply, will bring it before other Members of the Government.

Mr. Tomlinson

I shall not attempt to reply to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) for I think I find myself in agreement with the greater portion of it; nor shall I dilate on the point that some great men sold newspapers, though I might be able to speak of the methods of accountancy which can be learned from selling newspapers at an early age. But I do not think this is the place to do that. This is too big a question to be tackled in a Bill of this kind, a Bill which has been brought forward deliberately for the purpose of tidying up administration. I do not think we can accept on Report an Amendment which deals with another Measure altogether and which, although it affects the administration of education, deals with an important Act of Parliament. It would not be right for me to accept on the Report stage of a Bill taken on a Friday morning a principle which should be considered in a more appropriate Bill. If it is suggested that we have already dealt with one Section of that Act of Parliament, I would point out that administrative tidiness, to which some of my hon. Friends object, made that essential because we have by Act of Parliament raised the age—

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

I hope my right hon. Friend will not misrepresent us. We have never objected to administrative tidiness.

Mr. Tomlinson

The point I am making is that the alteration took place in that Act of Parliament so that we could carry out our duty under that Act. I would ask the hon. Member for Stretford, having brought this before the House, to withdraw his Amendment in order that it may be brought forward at the right time in the right way.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)

I cannot pretend to be other than disappointed that my right hon. Friend has suggested that there is something wrong about seeking this opportunity of changing the law with regard to the employment of school children. The House does not get an opportunity every day of dealing with education, and if we are to wait until a major Bill is introduced before we can improve the protection of our school children, we are indeed in an unfortunate position. My right hon. Friend gave no answer at all to this important question, and to suggest that there is something wrong about introducing it on a Friday morning is, of course, no argument at all.

I know where the sympathies of my right hon. Friend lie; I know that his own experience, of which the House is well aware, leads him to appreciate that school children cannot benefit as they ought if they have to work before going to school in the morning. I have seen too many children who have lost their chance owing to the shocking conditions described by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford. (Mr. Austin) and, like the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay), I feel there is no need to go into all the arguments. However, I want to express my dismay that the Minister is not even giving an indication that during some time in his term of office he will take steps to introduce this necessary reform. I hope he will not be obstinate on this point—he is not usually—and I ask him not to turn it down quite so flatly.

Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton)

I am disappointed that my right hon. Friend has refused to accept what seems a reasonable Amendment. He appeared to give some kind of vague assurance that at some time in the future, in some Bill not named by him, some Amendment might be moved to give effect to the desire of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin). That is not a very satisfactory assurance and, from past experience, I do not pin too much faith to the assurance given by right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench. It must be clear to anybody that a child who has spent a couple of hours delivering newspapers in all kinds of weather and in all kinds of areas before he goes to school is not in the best frame of mind to take advantage of education.

1.0 p.m.

Commander Maitland (Horncastle)

Is it not a fact that that is the exact situation dealt with in Subsection (1) of Section 59 of the parent Act? It lays down that if the health of a child is damaged or his ability to benefit from the full amount of education is interfered with, that very thing shall be prevented.

Mr. K. Lindsay

It was precisely upon Section 59 that we tried to get stronger language inserted.

Mr. Morley

The Section has not proved efficient in practice as a means of preventing children from spending an hour or two delivering newspapers or milk. Even if it does not injure a child's health to do so, it must mean that the child does not benefit from the education, especially when the work is done in certain types of weather.

Mr. Seholefield Allen

What is important is not so much the state of health of the child as the state of tiredness in which the child goes to school and which may undermine the child's health as well as making him unreceptive to education at school.

Mr. Morley

The word "unreceptive" exactly fits the case. There is no economic argument in children doing this work as there might have been in the past because wages are better and the parents receive family allowance. If there are any benefits, it is notable that the parents who are well-to-do do not seek those benefits. We do not find boys and girls who attend preparatory schools or public schools delivering newspapers or milk before they go to school in the mornings.

Some local authorities have adopted bylaws which prevent school children doing such work during the school term. Other authorities have not done so, with the result that there is variation of practice in the country. Some areas which have progressive local authorities have adopted such by-laws, and their children are fortunate because they do not have to do this work before they go to school. In other areas the children do not get that protection. Whenever an education committee desires to adopt such a by-law to protect its children it meets with violent opposition from newsagents and milk vendors. A strong barrage of criticism is directed against them which only a strong-minded education committee, earnest about the welfare of its children, can withstand.

I do not think it will make any difference to the delivery of milk and newspapers if the Amendment is adopted. I belong to the progressive education committee of Southampton. Recently, in spite of strong obstruction from the newsagents, we adopted a by-law preventing children from doing this sort of work during the school term. I have not found that our by-law has interfered with the delivery of newspapers. I get my newspapers just as soon and just as inevitably as I did before. I know that my right hon. Friend is keen about tidiness of administration and I appeal to him that it would be in the interests of tidiness if there was uniform practice on this matter among education committees in the country. That uniformity can be secured only by the adoption of my hon. Friend's Amendment, which was argued by him so ably. I ask the Minister to think again.

Mr. Walker (Rossendale)

I intervene to express my strong feeling upon this subject. I know that in making an appeal to my right hon. Friend, I am not appealing to a person who is unsympathetic with the desire expressed in the Amendment. My right hon. Friend is perhaps more broadminded than I am myself upon the subject.

I speak as one with bitter experience of selling newspapers in the early years of my life. I started to sell newspapers at nine years of age and I continued to do so until I went into the trade at 14. Incidentally, I have been in the newspaper industry all my life. Whether that has been an advantage to me or not, I cannot say. My experience of selling newspapers in the evenings was that many times as a young boy I went home wet through. Consequently, I suffered for years with rheumatism. Although I have had a fairly healthy life, I might have been a great deal healthier had I been safely at home by the fireside instead of wandering the streets in all kinds of weather.

Another thing that happened to me as a result of this newspaper experience was the one half day I used to miss school to go round with the weekly newspapers. Consequently, I got rather behind some of my school fellows. When I sat for the foundation scholarship at my local grammar school, I lost it altogether. I have often wondered what effect that might have had upon my future career. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment talked about famous men who had sold newspapers. I am wondering how many famous men the country may have lost by letting them sell newspapers. I might even have been a famous man if I had not sold newspapers. I do not know how I ever got into Parliament in the circumstances in which I was brought up, but this is a wonderful country. Even a boy who goes round to sell newspapers has a chance of getting into the House of Commons, but it might very well be that if we abolished this awful system of boys going round in the morning selling newspapers and milk many more of them might in later life get into the House of Commons.

Because of the strong feeling I have that those experiences were a great handicap to me, I support the Amendment, and I appeal to my right hon. Friend to adopt it. I knew my right hon. Friend very well indeed long before I came into Parliament. I know that his heart is full of sympathy on this subject and that he will bear our argument in mind and will not rest until he has placed upon the Statute Book an Act to prevent boys and girls being gainfully employed in such ways as selling newspapers or going round with milk, or any other kind of occupation that is offered to them.

Commander Maitland

I want to make clear the point of the interruption I made a minute or two ago. The question of working before going to school is extremely important, and I have every sympathy with the Amendment. For the sake of accuracy however it should be made clear that power exists at this moment to prevent the very practices that are being complained of. I think "receptive" is the key word. If a pupil is not receptive he is not capable of getting the full benefit from the education facilities available to him. Subsection (1) of Section 59 of the Act does the very thing that the Amendment proposes to do; if local authorities are not doing their duty properly, that is an entirely different question.

Mr. Austin

In view of the assurances which we have had from my right hon. Friend, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1.10 p.m.

Mr. Hardman

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

My first duty is to refer to Clause 2. His Majesty the King is a Governor of certain endowments which may be subject to the schemes under this Clause. It has therefore been necessary to get His Majesty's gracious consent to this Clause, and I have the honour to make known to the House that his consent has been given.

I do not intend to make anything but a very brief speech. It is a brief Bill, but, as the discussions here and upstairs have shown, it is a Bill of some importance for the more efficient implementation of the principal Act. So great and so revolutionary an Act as that of 1944 was bound to require some amending in the light of experience. This second amending Bill since the passing of the principal Act attempts to make its contribution to this.

I wish to thank hon. Members on all sides of the House and hon. Members serving in the Committee upstairs on behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself for the many and valuable suggestions made in the course of our discussions. By no means all the suggestions that have been made have been acceptable to us, but undoubtedly at this stage in the progress of the Bill it is a much improved Measure. It is a Measure which in almost every Clause directly affects the daily life of the child in the school or in later life under the almost all-embracing umbrella of further education. Already this morning, and certainly during our discussions upstairs, the phrase "administrative tidiness" has been used. I prefer the phrase "the better administrative efficiency" because without such administrative efficiency on the part of the local education authorities, and, I agree, the Ministry itself, the child and the teacher in the schools would suffer. I commend this Bill to the House in complete confidence that teachers, local authorities and hon. Members will welcome any Measure to facilitate the implementation of the principal Act and to give of the very best to our children in the schools day by day.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. Cove

I congratulate the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary on the way in which they have piloted the Bill through its stages and particularly during the Committee stage. They were sympathetic and informative although they did not always give us what we desired. All the same, I heartily congratulate both of them on their conduct of the Bill.

We are, of course, still unconvinced that the Clause relating to the age of transfer is satisfactory. We still believe—and we want to put it on record—that 11 is the proper age for transfer. That age is essential in the interests of the children themselves and the corporate life of the junior schools. It is a bad thing to have a contained life in the junior schools and a bad thing to have the pressure of examinations.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us about one great fear we have. It may be unfounded but there is undoubtedly the fear that the junior children will be transferred in large numbers into the grammar schools and modern secondary schools. It is vital—and we would like some reassurance about this—that there should not be a hurried transfer. In their young days the children should have every chance to live the full life of childhood. A child who lives the full life of childhood becomes a more efficient adult. Any containment of the child life is a containment of the adult life later on. I hope the Minister will reassure us that so far as he is concerned there will be no large-scale damage to the junior schools. I assure him that there is this anxiety, and we would like to be assured that he will watch this development closely and, if necessary, take action to preserve the entity of the junior schools and the right of the child to live a full, free life in those schools.

1.18 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay

I want to say a few words in view of the fact that I was unable to be present during the Committee stage. However, I have read every word of the Committee proceedings very carefully. From the point of view of argument, there is no doubt that the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) and the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Morley) are completely right. The Bill is now a better Bill. The Amendments with regard to charitable trusts and building regulations have improved it. I was not quite clear what the Parliamentary Secretary meant when he said that some things had been accepted reluctantly; I could not think what they were.

When the three hon. Gentlemen the Members for Aberavon, Southampton, and Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) were putting their case, there was an implicit assumption that the local education authorities would almost automatically take what is in the Bill as the regular thing. That is a most dangerous outlook for education. In the Amendment on children working in the mornings we were seeking to set up a national minimum standard, but when it comes to education authorities, I want the greatest possible variety. Our local education authorities should work out their own solution to problems but unfortunately Section 1 of the major Act makes that very difficult. Day by day the stream of circulars and memoranda still comes out from the Ministry of Education.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman is wholly in agreement with me on this. I am not even blaming the Ministry be- cause those circulars and memoranda are an essential part of the Act. I am complaining that the insertion of 10 years and 6 months in the Bill implies in the minds of so many hon. Members a good reason for local education authorities acting on the precise words. That is a measure of uniformity and centralisation which we tend to get these days. I hope that authorities will not take too seriously these words "ten years and six months." I hope the local authorities will do what the Minister said they should do, and that is, continue doing what they were doing before. In other words, we have to accept what he says that there is no other way to amend this curious piece of illegality. This is a clumsy way of doing it, but there is no alternative. What has given rise to this situation is the peculiar wording of Section 114 of the 1944 Act. If it had not been put in that language, it would not be necessary to discuss it now.

One thing which this Bill has done is that it has shown that the junior schools of this country are a national disgrace. Until this House takes far more interest in education and puts the junior school on a proper basis, we are going to have a repetition of this kind of Debate and of the criticism which is in the Advisory Council's Report and which states that it will be 50 years before the buildings of our junior schools are on a reasonable basis. We have been paying a great deal of attention to secondary education and to the very early stages, but we want to make it absolutely clear that we want to see a good general education provided for children between 7 and 11. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Aberavon to talk about the preparatory schools and compare them with the public school system. They are an entirely different proposition. What we want to see in the ordinary system of education is the junior school giving proper time to the learning of at least one language such as French. The proper age at which to learn that language is two, but between seven and 12 there are great possibilities I hope what whatever the actual words, the spirit of the Bill will be carried out by the education authorities, who will insist on four years in a junior school and that they will cut out the hideous examination to abolish which was one of the purposes of the 1944 Act: but this means more building.

1.23 p.m.

Mr. Corlett (York)

I did not intend to intervene in this Debate, but it happens to be my Amendment which has been so severely criticised. We must bring ourselves to a sense of reality. This Bill deals only with administrative defects in the main Act. It has limited objects and the Minister was faced with a real difficulty in regard to the rigidity of the age in the principal Act. All of us can see what is wrong with a rigid 12, but it is very hard to find a solution. I think the Minister tackled the problem admirably when he found the solution through giving the authorities more elbow room. The education authorities in the country are not uniformly alike. There must be reasonable elbow room for each individual authority. Some authorities have been able to transfer children at 11 plus quite easily and so have every regard to their junior and secondary schools. On the other hand, there are other authorities who owing to their difficult circumstances will find it hard indeed to be fair to both junior and senior schools.

The Minister has done the right thing, for he has said, "I will give reasonable elbow room," He has taken 12 as the upper age limit, but where he made his mistake in my opinion was in introducing 10 years as the lower limit. That age is indefensible, for I do not think the authorities of this country need two years' elbow room. But 11 is equally too little for some authorities and would mean that some would be compelled, whether we like it or not, to transfer their children before legally they were able to transfer them, as they are doing now. They would be acting illegally, and could be brought before the courts. The Minister did the right thing I believe when he accepted my Amendment of 10 years six months which gives local authorities the right amount of elbow room.

The whole thing is now transferred to the authorities. In acting as a central authority this House, I believe, must always be very careful never to compel democratically elected local authorities to act within unreasonable limits. We must never abuse our power, and we have no right to place a statutory duty which is not reasonable on a local authority. It would not be a reasonable statutory duty to say to all local authorities "You must transfer all your children at 11." That would be tantamount to saying, "We do not care what your difficulties are as regards teachers or buildings, but you must carry out the Act." We have no right to exercise our powers in that way and then leave to the individual authority the problem of settling the method of transfer. Those who find it easier to transfer at 11 will do so. Those who find it difficult will get the encouragement and sympathy of the Minister and other educationists who will want to assist and who, I hope, will not be unmindful of local difficulties. Our job as I have said in Parliament is to lay down reasonable limits for the authorities and I suggest that from 10 years and six months to 12 years, which gives 18 months elbow room, provides reasonable limits for every local authority so that it can act according to its local circumstances and deal with each individual child. We are merely legalising the existing practice, and we can only do that by putting in the Bill 10 years and 6 months.

1.28 p.m.

Commander Maitland

On behalf of the Opposition I should like to support the Third Reading of this Bill, and to thank the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for their courtesy during its passage. There is one thing about which we can all agree and that is that this Bill, which now has reached its age of transfer and is going on to its secondary education is a far better, and wiser little Bill than when it bounced into the Chamber for its Second Reading. It is an example of how common sense can triumph over other things. There are, of course, one or two points in the Bill with which we on this side of the House cannot entirely agree. For example, there is the Clause which gives the Minister the power to decide to take over a charitable trust. During the Committee stage we had an assurance—I would be out of Order if I referred to those assurances—explaining what happened under an Order-in-Council to prevent any unfairness. Nevertheless, we on this side of the House are slightly doubtful about giving opportunity to somebody to take more powers. As the Act stood before it was amended by this Bill, it was the giver up of power, the Charity Commissioners who had the arbitrary powers to give up responsibility, if arbitrary powers could have been said to exist, so we are doubtful about the Minister taking that power on himself. We should have preferred, had it been possible, to have had a third party to give judgment. The Parliamentary Secretary, in his Second Reading speech, indicated that he agreed with this point of view. Perhaps it is not too late to hope that an independent third party will be introduced to arbitrate, if necessary, between the Minister and the trustees of any charity involved.

The main Debate has been on the question of the age of transfer and I do not grudge one moment of the argument which has taken place on that. As things exist, it is the most important moment in a child's life. Many of us think it is too important and that as things are at present, with the shortage of school accommodation and the difficulties the education system faces, there is too much irrevocability about that moment in a child's life. We look forward to a time when the main Act is working more fully when it will not be nearly so irrevocable and many more children will have a second chance than at present. That is why we considered this matter so carefully in Committee. If local authorities try to put the to year six months rigidly into force, it will undoubtedly be too low an age. I hope that local education authorities will do their best to adhere to the later age of transfer.

We are glad that relaxations have been made in regard to rules and regulations for buildings. So long as education authorities carry out the spirit of the Act, all will be well, but when we relax regulations there is always a danger that people will take advantage of them. That is why we tried to impress on the Minister that we wanted him to assure us that in his report to Parliament he will be able to tell us where, when, how and why such relaxations took place. Parliament should be very jealous of those standards, which were set up with great difficulty. We all know there is still some pressure of opinion to relax them permanently if opportunity were found. We who are interested in education should fight for keeping those standards and should very jealously regard the duty of the Ministry to report to us and tell us about them.

All the minor amendments are satisfactory with the possible exception of those relating to Section 40 of the main Act. Until recently we thought that when a child lived in one locality and was educated in another there would be no difficulty in the two authorities being able to get together and settle all problems amicably. We have recently been told that there is a legal doubt between the two greatest education authorities in England, the L.C.C. and Middlesex County Council, whether the school attendance enforcement provisions can be carried out if the child is not being educated in the district in which he lives. I ask the Minister to see whether that legal difficulty exists. It would be a great pity if this Bill should reach the Statute Book and any obvious amendment which would improve the main Act were omitted.

I wish this little Bill well. It is the right form of legislation to take a great Act and modify it as time goes on. I pay tribute to that great Act. It is not only a great Act, but a great act of planning to which some of the immature planners, of whom we hear so much, might pay attention.

1.37 p.m.

Mr. Morley

Administrative experience and various changes have shown that there were a few loose ends in the great Act,—and I quite agree that it was a great Act—and this is the second little Bill introduced to tie up those loose ends. With most of the provisions of this Measure educationists throughout the country will be in wholehearted agreement. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) in congratulating the Minister and the. Parliamentary Secretary on the skill and grace with which they piloted the Bill through a somewhat difficult Committee stage.

One Clause of the Bill is regarded with considerable apprehension by educationists, and another is looked upon with some degree of misgiving. The Clause which says that the normal age of transfer from the junior school to the secondary school should be 10 years and six months, is one which is looked upon with considerable fear by the majority of practising teachers. The junior school has a definite function in our educational system. It is a definite stage in the education of the child, a stage during which he learns to use the tools of knowledge, reading, writing and arithmetic, and to indulge in such activities as are suitable for his age. It would be harmful to the child to curtail the period unduly. Everyone agrees that the proper period for the junior school is that mentioned by the hon. Member for Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay), the years seven to We want a full four years' course for the junior school.

The Bill does not say that the transfer must take place at 10 years six months, but the words "ten years and six months" are in the Bill, and will be taken as a guide by most local education authorities that that is the time at which transfer is desirable. If some local authorities, because of administrative difficulties, find it would make it easier to transfer at 10 years six months, they will seize on that Clause as an excuse for so doing. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Corlett) has argued that it is for the administrative convenience of education authorities that the transfer should take place at 10 years six months. The birthrate has increased lately and junior schools are rather overcrowded. I presume the argument is that we can lessen that overcrowding by pushing the children into the secondary schools. A time may come when the birthrate may fall, and the same argument would be used for keeping the children longer in the junior schools. Apparently they are to be stretched on a sort of Procrustean bed to suit administrative convenience.

Our point of view is that education should not be modified to suit administrative convenience but that administrative convenience should be so used as to promote educational advance. We also fear that if the age of 10 years six months is generally adopted it will have an adverse effect upon the cleverer children who desire to proceed to the grammar school. They will have to take the entrance examination for the grammar school at the age of nine if they are to be admitted at the age of 10 years six months. That is far too early an age for a child to be worried by thoughts of a difficult competitive examination. It is not the work in preparation for the examination which harms the child but the worry about the results of the examination. At home, he is worried by his parents, who are extremely anxious that the child should qualify in this entrance examination to go into the grammar school, because most parents want their children to go into the grammar school rather than to the technical school or the modern school. The child is also pushed by teachers who are anxious, for the prestige of the school, to get as many successful results as possible. I feel it is wrong that a young child, aged nine, should be worried about examination results. It may have a bad effect on his emotional stability in later life.

I know that it is not obligatory for an authority to transfer children at the age of to years six months but the fact that there is that provision in the Bill will be a temptation for authorities to do so. I ask the Minister, with his great powers of control over local education authorities, which the Education Act, 1944, has given him, to exercise that influence and control so that as far as possible the age of 11 or 11 plus and not the age of 10 years 6 months shall, in the case of education authorities generally, be the normal age of transfer.

The other Clause in the Bill which has given rise to a certain amount of apprehension is the Clause which permits the Minister to relax the full rigour of the building regulations. Educationists throughout the country warmly welcomed the building regulations when they were issued by the Ministry for they set, for the first time, a really good standard for school buildings in this country. We know that circumstances have arisen—difficulties of obtaining sites, difficulties of material and labour—which in some instances will prevent those building regulations from being fully carried out. But if there are any relaxations of the building regulations, I hope that the Minister will carefully examine each one that is proposed, will authorise any relaxation with the utmost reluctance, and will review them afterwards as soon as possible, so that this Clause may do as little as possible to lower the fine level of building standards set out in the Ministry's building regulations.

The great obstacle in the way of implementing the Education Act, 1944, is precisely that lack of buildings. I hope that when the Minister has got this little Bill through Parliament, and can devote the whole of his time to his administrative problems, he will utilise every effort and mobilise every resource of technical advice in his Ministry to see whether he cannot devise some prefabricated forms of classroom, some forms of building other than traditional forms, which can be quickly assembled and erected as school buildings. If that is not done it will be many years before the Act of 1944 is implemented as we desire it to be.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. G. Thomas

In common with hon. Members on both sides of the House who have already spoken, I congratulate the Minister on having had this Bill improved as it has passed through its various stages. I believe that this Measure, which he well described as a tidying-up Measure, is nevertheless one of great importance, particularly in regard to the effect upon the children in our schools. I would like first to refer to the fact that by the passing of this Bill the Welsh Intermediate Education Act will cease to have effect. That has been a great Act of Parliament, and one which the people of Wales have sought to use to the utmost. Welsh education authorities have given a lead to the rest of the United Kingdom so far as secondary education is concerned.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has given us, as he did in Committee, an assurance with regard to the alteration of the building regulations. I remember asking him a question on the Floor of the House concerning the reduction of those building standards. He was then most emphatic in stating that he would seek to maintain the required standard as laid down by the Coalition Government. I hope that we shall not fall away from that standard.

I wish to refer to what I consider to be the major part of this Bill, the issue about which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Mr. Morley) has already spoken, the fixing of the age of transfer at 10 years six months. [Interruption.] I am sorry, I can hardly hear myself; I do not know how other hon. Members can hear anything. It is sheer bad manners. When my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Corlett) was speaking I thought he was trying to make out a case for not putting in an age at all, because he was most emphatic that we must not try to tie authorities, that we must not try to make them uniform, that we must not say, "We do not care what diffi- culties you have, you must transfer at this given age." None the less, he agreed, for some mysterious reason which he did not give, that 10 years six months is sacrosanct but that 11 years of age is apparently out of the question.

Mr. Corlett

I said that I thought the Minister had gone too far when he suggested 10 years, as it gave too much elbow room. I also said that 11 years did not give the authorities sufficient elbow room but that 10 years six months would give the authorities the sensible amount of elbow room.

Mr. Thomas

Then six months is wrong in one direction but not in the other? My hon. Friend is doing what we are all entitled to do, putting forward his own opinion, but the considered opinion of the teaching profession and of those engaged in the training of these children is diametrically opposed to what my hon. Friend says today. The Minister of Education will know that those to whom will fall the responsibility for training the children who will be transferred to the secondary school have great misgivings and great fears about the possibilities that are here envisaged. We are sentencing the children of the junior schools to cramming and excessive homework in order that they shall be forced through in the necessary time. I know that my right hon. Friend does not want that when he says that he does not want to see this a general age. But none the less this Act does make it possible for local authorities to take power into their own hands, and the junior schools can suffer a very deadly blow. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman—whilst I appreciate that he has made a move forward on six months—if he cannot, even now, consider in another place an Amendment which will meet the very deep seated desires of the teaching profession in regard to this question.

1.52 p.m.

Mrs. Nichol (Bradford, North)

I should not have taken part in this Debate at this late hour, had it not been for a remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) a few moments ago, when he spoke of the opinion of the teaching profession in this matter of the transference of age. I do not know how he gauges the opinion of the teaching profession, because there are many branches other than that in the junior schools. My concern is similar to the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Corlett), which is to give some latitude to the authorities, and to abolish a good deal of the rigidity which affects the main Act.

During the Committee stage my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) talked a good deal about the preparatory schools and the poise and confidence given to the children in the preparatory schools. Surely, it is well known that children in preparatory schools are taking a grammar school or secondary curriculum long before they are transferred to the public schools. They take French at nine, Latin at ten and higher mathematics. In fact it is exceedingly difficult even for bright children at a grammar school at the age of 12 to pass the common entrance examination to the public schools without special coaching.

The Parliamentary Secretary, in the Debate on the Second Reading put up a very good case for the specially bright child. His actual words were: There are children who, at a very early age, we call the exceptionally brainy and intellectual children. Somehow or other we must safeguard them, because we have to safeguard the nation. Brainy children developing into brainy, intellectual adults make a great contribution to the life of the nation; and without them I beg to suggest, without rhetoric, and without a complete development being available to them, the nation will find itself in a very parlous condition in the decades which lie ahead."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Friday, 27th February, 1948; Vol. 447, c. 2366.] I agree entirely. My submission is that the bright children are not necessarily the prostrated, over-stressed children. Often they are very fine physically developed children. The children whom we have to safeguard are those whose parents are over anxious and press them from another angle. I think it is a very fine thing to have this extra latitude and, as my hon. Friend the Member for York has said, to leave some elbow room to the authorities and to give them some feeling of responsibility. After all, we are not dealing with a standardised product when we are handling young children. There are many children now in junior schools who are bored with their last year. Some of these are the little imps who come before the juvenile courts, who get into trouble because they are bored. They often become errand boys in the school under the name of prefects, and it is very much better that they should have this chance to get on with their further education. I am certain that this is a very good Amendment which has been incorporated into this Bill, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having accomplished it. The heads of secondary schools, grammar schools and junior schools know their job and how to deal with the children a great deal better than many M.P.'s can tell them, and when they can co-operate sympathetically and intelligently with the local authorities, we are likely to get first-class results.

1.56 p.m.

Mr. Tomlinson

I would like to thank hon. Members for the very friendly way in which some of the questions on this Bill have been put forward and studied. I would also thank them for their assistance in dealing with what were very difficult and technical matters. It is suggested that this is a much better Bill than it was before. Some doubt was thrown upon the capacity of the individuals responsible for drawing it up, because it had emerged in a different form after a Second Reading. It is suggested that those individuals did not know their job. I would point out that many of these questions—including the very one that has given rise to all the difficulties in the Bill itself—are due to the legalistic language that has to be used, and the difficulty, of interpreting that language, which makes it not an easy task for those responsible for dealing with the problems which have arisen as a result of the passing of an Act of Parliament.

We must not forget that every single one of these Clauses which form the new Bill are, in effect amendments to what were the original Clauses in the Act of 1944. If those who are drawing up these Amendments are to be criticised for not having done their job properly in the first instance, the criticism must go back further, to the people who drew up the Act which rendered this Bill necessary. The fact that we have so many hon. Members who are experienced in administration as well as in Parliamentary procedure has enabled us to send this Bill to what was described as the "secondary school," so far as legislation is concerned—it having passed through its primary stage in this House—in a much better form than it was before.

The question of the age of ten years, six months has been raised again and again, and I do not blame hon. Members for raising it. It has been incorporated into the Bill as a result of an Amendment made to meet what is now the situation. It is not intended to be a guide or a pointer to local education authorities, who are doing their job very well. The fact remains, however, that under the Act of 1944 any individual manager of a school could have prevented any child from being sent to the senior school until he had reached the age of 12. That was the effect of the interpretation of what was a junior scholar. In order, therefore, to make legal what is now the practice it was necessary to introduce this Amendment.

Someone asked why we should not reduce the age at which a child ceases to be a junior student, in the Appendix to the Act itself. The reason is that the age of 12 applies to many other things besides this question of age transfer. The average age of transfer is about 11 years, two months. A child whose birthday falls in such a way that he is promoted from the infants to the junior school late in his seventh year will also be promoted to the secondary school late in his eleventh year. The attempt to bring him within legal practice by introducing the age of 11 would have the effect of increasing the number of those treated exceptionally. There would be no other difference. I hope that this will not affect the present practice among authorities. The aim of the Clause is not to enable authorities to relieve congestion in primary schools by early transfer. If we find that authorities are doing that, we will use all the power we have to prevent it.

Mr. Cove

The Minister has the power.

Mr. Tomlinson

If I have the power, then I shall use it. It is important that people should be acting legally rather than illegally in carrying out our intentions. One or two other questions were raised. In reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland), I promised to have another look at Clause 1 to see whether it was possible to introduce words which would reduce the fears of hon. Members who thought that the Minister of Education might become too greedy and swallow up these various charities. I have considered the matter, and I cannot find ways of meeting the real objection put forward. However, I consider that the Amendment which I accepted in Committee upstairs went a long way towards giving the desired assurance.

I am glad that Amendments about the building regulations were accepted. While we are all desirous of retaining the building regulations at a high standard, we must be realistic and face the situation. To safeguard the position not only now, but in the future, it was necessary that the Minister's prerogative in regard to regulations should be limited in the way laid down. Anyone who fears that the Minister might be doing too much does not understand Parliamentary language. The hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay) said that we were all agreed on the principle. He suggested that one of the difficulties in the administration of this Measure was that we were turning out streams of circulars. There is a Clause in this Bill which abolishes between 50,000 and 60,000 forms. This is the only Bill in which I have been interested which has gone so far. It might be useful if hon. Members would read some of the forms and consider the necessity for them. The object of this Bill was to tidy up the administration of what I believe to be a great Act of Parliament. There are many things which, although small in themselves—for instance, the question of the educable and the ineducable child—are of great importance. I thank hon. Members for the co-operation which they have shown.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.